Tanzania – The “new” CCM, same as the old CCM? Continuity and change in authoritarian parties

Under Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli, elected in October 2015, much has changed in Tanzania’s politics. Power has become more centralised in the hands of the President, opposition parties marginalised, and state security forces more prominent, to name but a few notable trends.

Rather than comment generally on these changes, though, this post examines one important element, namely how Tanzania’s long-time ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, has evolved over the past couple years to become the “New CCM”. What is so “new”, exactly? To what extent is the party building on its own historical inheritance? And how is it breaking from the past?

More broadly, this is a post about how we understand continuity and change in a ruling party, and what that understanding can tell us about a regime’s changing distribution of power. In what follows, I outline an approach to studying authoritarian party cohesion and institutional strength, plus how this relates shifting power dynamics. I then sketch out how to apply this approach to a more in-depth case analysis, in this instance, of Tanzania’s CCM.

How to think about authoritarian party institutions

Much of the recent comparative literature on authoritarian party institutions presents them as an important elite coordinating mechanism. The general idea is that ruling parties support a credible power-sharing arrangement, to use the favoured political science jargon; once formed, they help independently shape and constrain patterns of elite behaviour, thereby securing greater regime stability and endurance.[1] This understanding builds on a consensus within the rational choice school that institutions “structure social interaction and produce equilibrium outcomes, that is outcomes that no one has an incentive to alter.”[2]

There is an alternative way of viewing party institutions, however, inspired by a mix of critical political economy and historical institutionalist traditions.[3] This approach places an analysis of power centre stage. Rather than presenting institutions as stable coordinating devices, it highlights how they are themselves part of an ongoing power struggle; they are “objects of political competition”[4] that “reflect, and also reproduce and magnify, particular patterns of power distribution in politics.”[5] Institutions are, in other words, sources of power in their own right; they “actively facilitate the organization and empowerment of certain groups while actively disarticulating and marginalising others.”

Adapting this second approach to the study of parties, the key question is not about how party institutions shape the political behaviour of elites; rather, the focus is on how powerful individuals and groups navigate within an existing institutional framework, and how they seek to change it. Phrased differently, we are no longer talking abstractly about what “the Party” does, as a would-be independent coordinating device; we are instead trying to understand who is best able to bend party institutions to their political will, how and to what effect.

This study has at least three parts to it, as I elaborate in some of my other work.[6]

First, there is a need to appreciate the significance of a shifting societal distribution of power, and notably of ownership and wealth.[7] This is an area in which authoritarian elites intervene directly, including with strategies of “politicized accumulation”;[8] they influence opportunities for private individuals’ to accumulate wealth but also whether and how these individuals can use their wealth as political finance or patronage.

Second, shifting the focus to party institutions themselves, we must analyse how a prevailing distribution of power influences the ability of political elites to manipulate party structures and rules. Where power is more dispersed and competition across rival factions intense, we may see the outright subversion or strategic redeployment of formal rules as determined by informal pressures.[9] Where authoritarian leaders are, by contrast, able to consolidate power further, they may reinforce this effort by centralising and streamlining party structures, thereby limiting opportunities for would-be rivals to coordinate and form opposing factions. Whatever the specific power dynamics in play, though it is important to add that history matters; a party’s institutional inheritance, the mix of formal rules and established norms, defines the existing set of institutional resources that elites can leverage. It also affects the imaginative possibilities for actors looking to create new institutional arrangements.

This brings us to the third element in our study, namely ideas. A particular—again, often inherited—set of ideas will shape both how political actors understand their own interests and the strategic options available to them. It also shapes what actions may be deemed legitimate, and thus what narrative can be built to justify them. All of this applies in the case of party institutions, specifically, as I hope to show below.

Indeed, moving on from this perhaps rather dense theoretical discussion, I now turn to the central focus: Tanzania and President Magufuli’s “New” CCM.

Introducing CCM, from socialism to party “privatization”

To understand what Magufuli is trying to do now, we must understand what came before.

Briefly, Tanzania’s ruling party has continued to evolve—as an institution—from its pre-independence days as the spearhead of a nationalist struggle to the present.

While in the early 1960s, CCM—then the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) [10]—underwent a period of institutional erosion, its fortunes reversed with the introduction of one-party rule in 1965 and then President Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration in 1967, which committed Tanzania to Ujamaa, a brand of African socialism. The Declaration and subsequent economic reforms restricted opportunities for private sector expansion and accumulation while centralising rents and thus patronage in the hands of state and party officials. This economic balance of power then buttressed parallel efforts to strengthen the ruling party, notably by enhancing the control of the Central Committee and National Executive Committee at the top while extending its national reach through multiple layers of regional, district and branch structures, all the way down to the 10-House cell unit. Tanzania’s relative poverty prevented it from developing anything like the strength of, say, eastern Europe’s communist regimes while low-level factionalism and informal patronage networks endured.[11] But it was far more cohesive and institutionally strong than, for instance, its counterpart in neighbouring Kenya, whose post-independence political economy was more capitalist and private sector-oriented.

This socialist balance of power in Tanzania, already under strain in the late 1970s and early 1980s, changed dramatically with IFI-backed structural adjustment reforms from the mid-1980s. As Tanzania’s trade was liberalised, its vast array of parastatals slowly dismantled and privatised, and its state-owned banks sold off, a new form of “wild capitalism” took root. This was characterised by the growth of a new politico-economic elite, the proliferation of rival patron-client factions within the ruling party, and growing corruption. The knock-on effects for CCM’s institutional strength and cohesion were equally profound. The Ujamaa-era efforts to erect a barrier between political and business spheres failed and were then abandoned, leaving informal patronage networks to take root and grow within and around the existing party structures. Individuals within the party’s bureaucracy, from the highest to lowest levels, were ensnared in this factional competition. Meanwhile, formal procedures, notably governing candidate selection, were undermined as various forms of bribery and private influence peddling became the norm.

By 2000, the year after founding President and “Father of the Nation” Julius Nyerere passed on, the then President Benjamin Mkapa warned of CCM’s ongoing “privatisation”, and this at a time when he himself felt threatened by a set of nouveau-riche business elite-cum-political financiers. While Mkapa attempted a series of reforms, his successor—President Jakaya Kikwete (2005-2015)—road to power on the back of his own powerful mtandao, or network, only to see it fracture into competing factions, which he then struggled to control. Kikwete repeatedly articulated a commitment to reform and more stringent anti-corruption efforts, notably within CCM itself, but these efforts were largely unsuccessful, with Kikwete caught between different factions—attempting to tame, appease and build them in turn.

By the end of his presidency, concern about CCM’s institutional drift was widespread, as were fears about its moral decay. Once a party for the wanyonge, the down and out, it had been taken over by the matajiri, the rich.

Enter Magufuli, “The Unexpected”

As noted in previous posts, Magufuli’s victory in the 2015 race to be CCM presidential nominee was a surprise. He was Magufuli, “The Unexpected”, as labelled by the wonderfully wry Elsie Eyakuze.

After a complicated sequence of events during which CCM’s top leadership broke the party’s own selection rules and two rival factions knocked each other out of the running, Magufuli became the nominee.  He lacked any strong political base, or mtandao. He faced a further challenge after leading CCM heavyweight, Edward Lowassa, defected to become the presidential candidate for an emboldened opposition coalition, bringing many political financiers and CCM members with him. This was the biggest defection CCM had ever seen, leaving Magufuli’s former rivals for the presidential nomination to lend their own support and campaign infrastructure to a newly constituted election task force.

But what started as a challenge arguably became an opportunity for Magufuli once in office. Although he still needed to build his own base, the departure of Lowassa meant that one of the most powerful informal networks for political coordination within CCM had been undermined. Meanwhile, many of Lowassa’s associates—still in the party—were left fearful of being labelled wasaliti, traitors.

Magufuli—in keeping with what his apparent personal leadership proclivities—went on to seize this opportunity, pursuing a strategy of centralising power as both President and, from mid-2016, CCM Chairman. While this strategy has several relevant components, not least a form of “autocratic legalism”, constraints on the opposition, and closer ties with the security forces, I focus below on two important dimensions relating to the ruling party itself: a new strategy of “politicized accumulation”, limiting independent sources of political finance, and extensive party institutional reforms, centralising power under his leadership.

As implied in the above discussion, these two dimensions are mutually reinforcing; a narrowing societal distribution of power and resources is reflected and amplified through the consolidation of party institutional control under the Chairman.

Disciplining the private sector, empowering the State

Magufuli’s new strategy of politicized accumulation and financial discipline can itself be broken down into several components.

First, there is his anti-corruption push launched immediately after entering office. Public servants who abused their office risked falling foul of the new “bursting boils” initiative, which swiftly claimed the heads of, for instance, the Tanzania Port Authority, the Tanzania Revenue Authority, and the head of the Preventing and Combating of Corruption Bureau. Private sector actors were also put on notice with one of Tanzania’s wealthiest men, Said Bakhresa, tangled in the customs duty affair that helped fell the TRA boss. Two more prominent businessmen implicated in a multi-million-dollar energy sector scandal under Kikwete, Harbinder Singh Sethi and James Rugemalira, were later arrested and now, over a year later, are still languishing in jail awaiting trial. Other politically-connected businessmen have been charged with a range of offenses, included tax avoidance, corrupt transactions and money laundering. Over time, people have increasingly asked questions about the extent of Magufuli’s anti-corruption zeal, with some people allegedly wrongly ensnared in prolonged investigations while others are apparently overlooked. At the very least, though, the President has sent a message to both public officials and private actors: tread carefully, or there will be consequences.

Beyond this anti-corruption push, Magufuli has adopted a new policy orientation in his pursuit of “Tanzania ya viwanda”, an industrialised Tanzania, that have limited private sector expansion and investor confidence. Dramatic cuts to public servants’ allowances and other emoluments reduced the circulation of money in the economy, with perhaps the most direct effects felt in the hospitality industry. More aggressive revenue collection and fluctuations in fiscal policy have also contributed to a view among many private sector actors that the economy had declined, as indicated by a survey conducted last year of medium-sized firms.[12] An increase in non-performing loans combined with the government’s decision to move its accounts from commercial banks to the Bank of Tanzania saw interest rates rise and banks reduce their lending. In mining, the government has adopted a very aggressive posture vis-à-vis several foreign investors and seen them halt or scale back operations.

I could go on, but the main point is that a combination of policies adopted by the Magufuli government have limited the surplus available in the private sector, including any money for political finance. Some of this may be an unintended consequence, as President Magufuli and his Ministers have met more with business associations than their predecessors and have repeatedly affirmed that the private sector is key to the industrialisation effort—so long as it pays its fair share of tax. A number of individual businessmen, however, who have political ties to either the opposition or now collapsing factions within CCM, have seen their business interests directly targeted—for alleged tax arrears, confiscation of land leased by the government, loss of government procurement contracts, and the like. And this, in addition to the above-mentioned cases of people caught out for corruption.

I final trend worth noting is the government’s statist turn. It is using procurement contracts, state-owned banks and pension funds to channel finance towards parastatals, military-owned enterprise, the prison service, and various government agencies who are expanding or starting new ventures in construction, agricultural production, processing, and manufacturing. The government has also pushed for a greater share of ownership in public-private partnerships, notably in Tanzania’s lucrative extractive sector. As the Executive Director of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation recently commented, “It has reached a point where the government feels happy to do business with itself instead of with the private sector.” While part of the reason for this approach is an oft-repeated conviction that it is save money, the politically relevant point is that the statist emphasis ensures the further centralisation of rents, and thus of funds to bankroll either opposition parties or rival factions within CCM.

In sum, Magufuli has adopted an overall economic approach that—both intentionally and, in some instances, perhaps less so—is limiting sources of independent political finance, and thus taking a first important step towards consolidating power and resources.

Creating the “New” CCM

These economic interventions are mirrored—and seemingly magnified—by an explicit campaign to centralise control within CCM’s institutions. This effort involves what might seem a paradoxical mix of institutional strengthening and personalisation. Slater (2003) has already examined how these two can—and do—go together in an authoritarian context,[13] although his analysis of the institutions involved is rather vague. What I highlight here, narrowing the focus to a ruling party, is how Magufuli has reinforced the structures within CCM that can help centralise power under the Chairman; when it is politically expedient, however, he has also used those same structures more opportunistically, in the process actually breaking party rules. This gets back to the core idea of institutions as a political resource, a tool to be used when convenient and ignored, manipulated or changed when not.

Magufuli set a major institutional reform process in train shortly after he took over as Chairman from Kiwkete in July, 2016. By December, the CCM National Executive Committee (NEC)—closely guided by President Magufuli and the Central Committee (CC)—had approved a set of recommended reforms to the party constitution. These were then voted on at a National Congress meeting in March 2017.

The March meeting coincided with a wave of expulsions from CCM of “traitors” and rumours of widespread discontent, with two MPs detained by police for questioning. Even so, the National Congress rubber stamped the proposed reforms. These included slashing the frequency of party meetings and reducing the membership of key party organs. Crucially, the number of NEC members was halved, and the number of CC members was reduced from 34 to 26, a significant proportion of which are appointed by the Chairman. Property belonging to CCM’s affiliated mass organisations—including the influential crucibles of CCM faction-forming, the Women’s League and Youth League—was also brought under the control of the central Party, whose Board of Trustees would be responsible for routine oversight.

While there were too many reforms to mention all of them here, a final highly significant change entailed drastically centralising control over parliamentary nominations. The new rules strip party members of their right to participate in primaries, instead designating a more restricted Constituency Congress as the body entitled to conduct primaries. But regardless of who participates, the primaries risk losing much of their meaning as the revised rules also empower the Central Committee to determine—for the first time ever—what candidates will participate in those primaries, with a maximum of three. The Central Committee also retains its right to advise the NEC on the final selection of a parliamentary nominee after the primaries have happened.

By shifting power from party members to the Central Committee, this proposed change alters to whom MPs are most directly accountable; now the Central Committee and Party Chairman play a bigger role than ever in deciding their political fate. Of course, how rules are applied in practice matters as much as how they appear on paper, particularly with candidate selection procedure, which has been routinely undermined by informal pressures since at least the 1990s. But a spate of by-elections—triggered by opposition MPs defecting to CCM—has seen the Central Committee unilaterally imposing the recently defected MPs as the new CCM by-election candidates, much to the chagrin of many lower-level party members. As such, the rules continue to be broken, but in a way that centralises power even further.

These reforms, which on paper clearly centralise power, are also presented as part of a strategy for rooting out factionalism and corruption within CCM. And indeed, they would appear to limit opportunities for building and sustaining patron-client networks without the blessing of the Chairman himself. Unsurprisingly, therefore, certain practices appear to be on the wane. For instance, previously, “there were some people who were actually hunting to be a member of the CC”, as noted by a CCM activist in discussion. That is because “you are privileged to know every development within the party and country,” which was a particular “advantage” for some politicians “doing business as well”.

There are additional instances, though, where the link is even closer, tying together CCM leaders’ institutional reform agenda and their effort to wrest control over political finance. In addition to the above-mentioned case of CCM’s mass organisations, a key example is the effort to audit and control CCM’s own assets, thereby ensuring greater financial autonomy. In this vein, Magufuli appointed an asset-tracing committee chaired by the University professor, Bashiru Ally, in December 2017, which then submitted its report in May this year. While the report has not been made public, it is alleged that many party assets—from football stadiums to petrol stations—were effectively “privatised” by CCM officials, and this from local to national level. Quite apart from helping to centralise control over party revenue, though, the report is also a tool for control; many prominent politicians are reportedly implicated and thus have the threat of a formal charge hanging over them—should they step out of line.

While this is still only a sketch of the changes within CCM, it nevertheless gives some sense of how these are geared towards strengthening institutions of central control, even as these structures and procedures may be bent further to fit a particular political agenda of the top leadership.

Before concluding, it is worth briefly reflecting on what ideas frame some of these recent changes. Many resonate with earlier mentioned concerns about CCM’s institutional drift and moral decay. Magufuli himself explicitly invokes Nyerere’s legacy, both with his economic interventions and ambition for a “New” CCM. Some of the historical resonances are even more explicit when coming from Bashiru Ally, who Magufuli appointed as CCM Secretary General in May. Himself a left-wing academic and champion of a certain Ujamaa legacy, Bashiru routinely invokes a language reminiscent of 1960s and 1970s TANU rhetoric. In his first press conference, he drove home that the party was returning to the “principles of its founders”, the “principles of the Arusha Declaration” to “reduce the gap between the haves and the have nots” and to uplift “the downtrodden.” He has further insisted that CCM must be “self-reliant”, another Nyerere-ist aim, cutting ties with its private financiers, or ensuring they only donate without expecting favours in return. Finally, he has queried the wealth of politicians, for instance, accusing some of stealing land from the poor.

This return of an old language, an old set of ideas helps frame and to some extent justify what Magufuli is doing. It renders his actions intelligible in a Tanzanian context.

But in many ways, the supposed historical similarities linking the “New” CCM and the CCM of past years are superficial. The economic interventions are statist, focused notably on big infrastructure projects, but without the emphasis on cooperative ownership or the democratic management of Ujamaa villages that defined the early TANU efforts.

As regards institutional changes to CCM, and notably Magufuli’s centralisation of control, this has raised deep—if not always very vocal—concerns among both the party’s rank-and-file members and its elite. In a much-commented on statement, Former President Mkapa (1995-2005) declared he wanted to hear less of “me, me” and more about “the Government of CCM”. Meanwhile, a statement by Bashiru regarding the discretionary enforcement of party rules, notably for candidate selection, was also widely circulated and criticised. “What’s written [in the CCM constitution], if its useful, it’s used,” Bashiru noted, before adding, “if it appears not to be useful, it’s changed.” As one commentator argued, “CCM […] is decaying its own institutions that give it legitimacy beyond electoral ballots.”

Some concluding thoughts

There are still many questions regarding how sustainability the changes Magufuli has introduced, both economically and politically, and thus what compromises he will have to make.

But for now, he has combined efforts to reshape the distribution of power in Tanzania with a drive for party reform; he has reduced the potential for rival patron-client factions to emerge through his economic interventions whilst further magnifying this effect through his strengthening of party structure, and selective breaking of certain rules.

To return to a more general, theoretical discussion, there are notable advantages to be gained from adopting a political economy analysis of party institutions, one that appreciates the complex power struggles that go on within them, and that lead to their gradual evolution. As I try to show through the Tanzanian case, it is through this analytical framing that we can make sense of institutional continuity and change in an authoritarian party, how it is both shaped by and in turn helps shape a particular distribution of power, and what effects this then has on a range of political and—although this is not the main focus here[14]—economic outcomes.

This approach is radically different from a the more widespread tendency to present authoritarian party institutions as independent coordinating devices that improve regime stability and survival. This understanding of what parties are and how they work is not particularly realistic, nor is the key outcome of interest actually that interesting. Focusing our attention on why CCM has survived in power for over 50 years, for instance, risks missing out a discussion of what has actually happened during that time, and why.[15] Who has replaced whom in power? Who has become richer? Who has become poorer? What are the political implications of that?

A political science literature on authoritarian parties would likely provide a greater service, shedding more light on politically salient outcomes, if it moves away from its established moorings, and starts to explore new approaches.



[1] Brownlee, Jason. 2007. Authoritarianism in an age of democratization. New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. “Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (4/5):715-41.

Reuter, Ora John. 2017. The Origins of Dominant Parties: Building Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Levi, Margaret 2009. “Reconsiderations of Rational Choice in Comparative and Historical Analysis ” In Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure ed. M. I. Lichbach and A. Zuckerman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 128.

[3] Pepinsky, Thomas. 2014. “The Institutional Turn in Comparative Authoritarianism.” British Journal of Political Science 44 (3):631-53.

Collord, Michaela. 2018. “The political economy of institutions in Africa: Comparing Authoritarian Parties and Parliaments in Tanzania and Uganda”, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

[4] Boone, Catherine. 1992. Merchant capital and the roots of state power in Senegal, 1930-1985. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 7.

[5] Thelen, Kathleen. 1999. “Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 2:394.

[6] Collord, 2018.

[7] Sangmpam, S.N. 2007. “Politics Rules: The False Primacy of Institutions in Developing Countries.” Political Studies 55:201-24.

Rodan, Garry, and Kanishka Jayasuriya. 2012. “A Social Foundations Approach.” In Routledge Handbook of Democratization, ed. J. Heynes. Oxford: Routledge.

Gray, Hazel. 2018. Turbulence and Order in Economic Development: Institutions and Economic Transformation in Tanzania and Vietnam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[8] Boone, 1992.

[9] On the interaction between formal and informal institutions, see:

Helmke, Gretchen and Steven Levitsky. 2006. Informal institutions and democracy: Lessons from Latin America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

On modes of institutional change, see:

Mahoney, James, and Kathleen Thelen. 2010. “A theory of gradual institutional change.” In Explaining institutional change: ambiguity, agency and power ed. J. Mahoney and T. Kathleen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[10] TANU ruled continental Tanzania (Tanganyika) from 1961 while another party, ASP, governed in Zanzibar from 1964 until 1977 when TANU and ASP merged to form a single party, CCM.

[11] Gray, 2018.

[12] World Bank. 2017. Tanzania Economic Update: Managing Water Wisely: 8.

[13] Slater, Dan. 2003. “Iron Cage in an Iron Fist: Authoritarian Institutions and the Personalization of Power in Malaysia” Comparative Politics 36(1): 81-101.

[14] Gray, 2018.

Whitfield, Lindsay, Ole Therkildsen, Lars Buur, and Anne Mette Kjaer. 2015. The politics of African industrial policy: a comparative perspective. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[15] Pepinsky (2014) makes a similar point.

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